“Senator Ren! You made it.”
“Were you expecting otherwise?” asked Kylo. If Hux was surprised by his appearance, he didn’t show it. Then again, he’d had plenty of time to dissemble since they’d announced their arrival at Scaparus Port.
“It’s quite a journey from the Core,” Hux said smoothly, the way everything else about him was smooth, from his neatly parted red hair, to the glossy, straight cut overcoat with the high collar he always wore. The only break in the smoothness was his sharp pale gaze, which took Kylo in with a clinical keenness.
“I came from Naboo, that was a shorter trip.”
“Ah,” said Hux, folding his hands behind his back as he nodded for Kylo to follow him. “So they approved of your request?”
“Yes,” said Kylo, and he didn’t bother to try keep the smugness from his tone. Hux could think what he wanted, if he even had an opinion on the matter. “It’s Kylo Amidala now.”
Hux’s eyebrows, red as his hair, went up. Kylo supposed his surprise was to be expected; his clashes with Naboo’s cultural custodians were well known, and they were a stubborn lot. “I can’t believe they were happy to give that up.”
“It took some persuasion,” Kylo admitted. “It was my grandmother’s courtesy name, but still a personal one; in the end, they couldn’t lay some kind of cultural claim on it. As her descendant, I have a right to it, and the Naberrie estate gave their approval. It is mine now.”
“And what does Chandrila think of it?”
“Nothing. It is a personal matter. As a core world we welcome people from all planetary and cultural backgrounds. My name is my business alone.”
“Admirable,” said Hux, and he sounded sincere about it. “Here in the Outer Rim, and in the Mid Rim too, we still struggle with that. The need to set ourselves apart from all the other planets. To not disappear into obscurity and irrelevance.”
“And this is where an alliance with a Core world would come in useful, would it not?” As he spoke, Kylo reached out to skim the surface of the other man’s thoughts, and almost slipped right out. It was unlikely that the man had training to resist Force users, considering their rarity in the galaxy these days. Besides, Kylo got in easily enough. But his thoughts were like quicksilver, shifting rapidly, sifting through Kylo’s Force probing, and the only impression he was left with was of himself, reflected back at him on the surface of Hux’s mind. Hux was intrigued by him.
Hux must have somehow detected his presence, because he twitched irritably, jerking his head as though avoiding an insect. “We’ll leave the shop talk for later,” said Hux a little testily, and Kylo retracted the mental touch. “My assistant, Mitaka, will see you to your rooms, and he will fetch you for our meal in two hours time.”
As promised, Hux’s mousy assistant came to pick Kylo up. A dark-haired, nervous looking man, quite the opposite of Hux, which made Kylo wonder how he’d found himself in the Senator’s employ. He didn’t speak as he led Kylo through the buildings carpeted corridors, walls dull grey plasteel. It was like walking through the interior of a ship; if it wasn’t for the wall to ceiling viewport that ran one entire side of the building, it would have been easy to think one was in space. Arkanis' endless rain put a stop to that illusion, though the view through the transparisteel was grey and bleak—endless space would almost seem preferable.
For this dinner, Kylo had changed out of his more elaborate dress—it had been more for show for the Nabooan committee than for Hux anyway. Traded the gown for a belted tunic of Chandrilan shraa silk, the headpiece for a simple-looking braid that twisted over the crown of his head and left the rest of his hair down. Hux had found Kylo Amidala intriguing, as he was supposed to; Kylo was interested to see what he thought of this.
Dinner was an intimate affair with just the two of them, in a sparsely decorated room overlooking the choppy bay. With Arkanis’ twin suns hidden behind overcast skies, the room’s lighting was turned up. It caught Hux’s hair every time he moved, and the effect was striking, like he was haloed in flame. Kylo hoped he’d be caught looking, but Hux seemed far more interested in his dinner and in grilling Kylo about his involvement in the Core World Alliance for Food and Agriculture.
“Why,” asked Kylo, picking his way through a starter of seared shellfish on an assortment of nutty breads, “are you considering taking up farming?”
Hux snorted inelegantly. “Hardly.” He definitely didn’t look the type; instead he appeared like a stiff Arkanisian breeze would blow him over, though from what Kylo knew of the climate, a stiff Arkinisian breeze blew almost everything over.
“Arkanis’ main economy comes from manufacturing,” Hux explained. “They’re mostly on the other side of the planet, but we have entire continents covered in factories. Ship parts, mostly for Kuat Drive Yards, and some smaller independent Outer Rim shipyards. We export water too, as you can see,” he gestured out the viewport, where an entire planetful of water seemed to lash against the transparisteel, “we have plenty of it.”
“You wish to export this water to the Core?”
“Who doesn’t want fresh water that hasn’t been run through a dozen filtration systems. Half of Coruscant drinks their own recycled waste.”
Kylo refused to let that put him off his food. He’d dealt with far more unsavoury topics before over dinner. “I have it on good authority that the water is perfectly potable.”
Hux shrugged. “I grew up in star ships. It doesn’t matter if it’s potable or not. But beings will still pay more for it if they think it fell from the sky. The Outer Rim is hardly lacking for water, and when they do, they cannot afford it.”
“So you’re asking for an in into the Alliance?”
“I’m asking for an introduction,” Hux said, gesturing with his wine. He met Kylo’s eyes and this time Kylo didn’t have to try to pick up his surge of interest. “I can handle my own negotiations.”
“Well,” Kylo said, raising his own glass to toast. He leaned back in his chair, rolling back his shoulders, knowing that the movement would make the neckline of his tunic slip just a little—shraa silk, it just flowed. If he’d judged Hux right, his interest ran deeper than in Core world inner workings. “Before I say yes, lets see some of that amazing Arkanis water.”
Now that he was out in it, surrounded on all sides by rain, unending, unceasing, wetter-than-wet rain, Kylo was beginning to regret his request. In fact, he’d regretted it the moment Hux had started smirking and acquiesced, regretted it further when, upon finishing their meal, he was handed a smooth coat similar to Hux’s, boots that went up to his thighs, and the ugliest hat he had ever set his eyes upon, tipped high in the front, low in the back to cover his neck.
He squeaked. Even drowned out by the rain, he moved knowing he set every foot on the ground to the noise of an MSE droid being kicked. “It’s because your boots are new,” said Hux, who didn’t squeak when he walked. Kylo took comfort in the fact that Hux’s hat, at least, was yellow, and clashed horribly with his hair, even if it did look black in the wet darkness of Arkanisian twilight.
“What do you think of our water?” asked Hux, who had to shout to be heard over the endless white noise of the rain. He was grinning, face and teeth gleaming white in the endless grey as he stood in the high beams of the ground car. No anti-grav worked in this weather, not this close to the ground, not even with Arkanis’ higher gravity.
“Very wet,” Kylo told him. “I do hope you don’t plan to drown Arkanis’ prospective trade partners.”
“Of course not,” said Hux, but he looked like the idea pleased him. “I don’t suppose Chandrila has weather like this.”
“You know it doesn’t,” Kylo snapped. He was cold and wet despite the rubberized waterproof coat and hat, and there wasn’t anything to see. There was a cliff, apparently several feet to their right, and when he reached out he could sense the empty space before them, but to plain eyesight, there was no sign of where the land ended.
“I see now why you spend so much time off planet.” Despite his smugness, Hux didn’t look any more at ease with the rain than Kylo felt. The force of the pelting water mashed his coat against his thin frame, and his icy stare lost its effect when he kept having to blink water out of his eyes.
He had just opened his mouth to tell Kylo something, when a sudden gust to send him staggering, forcing the words back into his mouth, blowing the ridiculous hat right off his head. Water immediately plastered his hair to his head, and Kylo watched him twitch as it probably began to run down his high collar. He gestured them back to the car, and Kylo climbed in with relief.
“You can see why I’m trying to sell it to you,” Hux joked, shutting the door on the deluge outside. Water ran in rivulets down his face, trailing down the sharp curve of his cheekbones. The dashboard lit up as he started the car, illuminating the drops caught in his eyelashes. He looked over to Kylo, licking away the raindrops caught on his upper lip. Stubble was coming in on his cheeks, the same red as his hair. “There are towels under the seat.”
Kylo nodded, bent over for them, tossing one at Hux while he gratefully buried his face in the other. The stupid hat had served its purpose, especially since he’d managed to keep it on his head thanks to some judicious application of the Force, but he was still going to have to untangle and comb out his hair tonight and wash it.
Caught off guard by the apology, Kylo found himself even more unbalanced when he turned to see Hux pull his towel away from his head. His hair stood in damp, fluffy peaks, curling around his ears and falling into his eyes. His gaze didn’t lose any of its keenness, but where Hux’s smoothness in the Senate was composed of sharp lines, a sort of slickness almost like an oil spill, here it blended out into something softer.
“Your hair,” Hux was saying. “Probably a pain to undo wet.”
“You could help,” Kylo found himself offering.
Hux’s eyebrows rose. His gaze, if possible, turned even keener, and there it was again, rising above all other thoughts, so loud he was almost projecting it, interest. It was more than lust—Kylo felt almost devoured by it.
Hux moved forward, then paused, something reining him in.
“Not dependent on this,” Kylo was quick to assuage him. “Consider this...off the record.”
“Off the record it is, then,” said Hux, and leaned in.